Cervical screening in New Zealand has changed. A simpler test is available and this important health check is now easier. We hope the information below will help answer your questions about the new test and what it will mean for you.
How is cervical screening changing? From 12 September 2023, Aotearoa New Zealand adopted a simpler screening test which is a better first test for the prevention of cervical cancer. As a result, most people will now only need to screen every five years. The new test looks for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), that causes more than 95% of cervical cancers.
What’s HPV got to do with cervical cancer? Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. The virus is very common and is spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact or any sexual activity. Most adults will have HPV at some time in their lives. Infections usually clear by themselves, but some types of the virus which persist can go on to cause cell changes that may in time turn into cancer.
How do I get the new test? Most people who are eligible for the National Cervical Screening Programme will be offered the new test as part of regular screening.
Can I do the self-test at home? Most healthcare providers will have a private space in the clinic for you to do the test, but you can talk to your them about other options for where you may be able to take your sample.
How is it different to the test I’ve had in the past? For most people HPV screening will replace the test (previously called a smear test) where a doctor or nurse performed a vaginal examination and took a cell sample from your cervix. For most people regular screening will now only be needed every 5 years (or 3-yearly of you are immune deficient).
Does this mean I won’t need a smear test anymore? The swab test option will suit most people but may not be ideal for everyone. For clinical reasons, some people will still be recommended to have a clinician-taken cervical sample, or you may still choose this option if you prefer it. Talk to your healthcare provider to get information and advice, to decide what’s best for you.
If you do a self-test or have a clinician-taken swab test and HPV is detected, you will either need to return for a cervical cell sample to be taken or be referred to a specialist clinic. This will depend on the type of HPV found. Around 10% of participants will have an HPV Detected result.
How soon will I get my results? Your HPV result will usually come back within two weeks. Talk to your healthcare provider about how you’d like to be contacted.
What can I expect from my results? Most test results are normal. Around 90% of people screened will be found not to have HPV.
What if HPV is found in my sample? It doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. Most HPV infections clear up by themselves. However, if the virus is found, you will be referred for further checks to see if there are any cell changes on your cervix. It may be recommended that you have a test to check the cells of your cervix (previously called a smear test) or a colposcopy (kol-poss-kapee). Both tests look for cell changes that, if untreated, may develop over time into cervical cancer.
How accurate is HPV cervical screening? The HPV test is very sensitive at finding HPV, whether you opt for the self-test, get your health provider to help, or have an examination of your cervix. However, no test is perfect and there’s a very small chance that HPV or cell changes could be missed. That’s why it’s important to have regular screening and, if you have any symptoms in between screening appointments, to report them to your doctor.
What symptoms I should I be concerned about?
- bleeding or spotting between your periods or after your periods have stopped (after menopause)
- pain during sex, or bleeding or spotting after sex
- persistent pain in your pelvis
- unusual or persistent discharge from the vagina.
These symptoms can happen for many reasons and rarely mean cervical cancer. However, they should be checked by a healthcare provider.
How do I know if I’m eligible for cervical screening? Cervical screening is available to wāhine/women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 69, who have ever had intimate skin-to-skin contact or any sexual activity, no matter their sexual orientation.
What if I’ve had a hysterectomy? If you’ve had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) check with your healthcare provider to see if you still need to have screening.
Is it okay to have a cervical screening test if I’m pregnant? It is safe to have a screening test when you are pregnant, but it is best to discuss this with your healthcare provider.
Can I have a screening test when I have my period? If you’ve got your period, you can still have a screening test, provided bleeding isn’t too heavy as this could affect the test result.
Will I have to pay to do a screening test? There’s usually a fee charged for screening. Some GP clinics, Māori and Pacific providers and community clinics offer a free or low-cost service. ere is also support available to assist you in attending screening appointments.
How do I know if I’m signed-up for cervical screening? You will get a notification to say that you are eligible for cervical screening. After your first screen, you will be enrolled on the National Cervical Screening Programme. If you are not sure you are on the Register, call 0800 729 729 and check. Being on the NCSP-Register means you will get an invitation to screen and reminders when your screening is due.
What if I don’t want to have cervical screening? You can choose not to be part of the cervical screening programme or to withdraw any time. Contact the programme and we’ll send you a form to complete. All information about your cervical screening tests and history will be removed from our records.
You can still arrange screening outside of the National Screening Programme if you prefer, but any results won’t be recorded or tracked on the NCSP-Register. You can also re-join the Programme anytime if you change your mind.
How do I know if I am due or overdue for screening? Check with your healthcare provider. You can also contact the NCSP-Register to find out if you are due or overdue for screening, to change your contact details, or to ask any other questions. You can contact the NCSP by free phoning 0800 729 729 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org